Janine Joseph , Judge of the 2018 contest
Of the collection, Janine Joseph writes:“I do not know/ if I am even right to be a mother at a right time,” discloses the speaker in the opening poem of Mother Said, “I Want Your Pain.” Evocative and startling in their unflinching clarity of image, these poems are inheritors of the aftermath of nuclear fallout and chemical warfare. They are tuned to the movement of transgenerational traumas. Grandmothers who “hid in a ditch with three horses” while B-29s shot bullets overhead, leave relatives who later ask of our bequeathed earth, “Is the land poisoned or not poisoned?” Here is a striking collection with a deft voice, poised even as it turns on or transcends an observation or emotion: “Grandfather watches TV on the highest volume,/ the howling-wind.”
Faisal Mohyuddin, author of The Displaced Children of Displaced Children
"What remains, in the aftermath of the horrors humans wreak upon other humans? According to Naoko Fujimoto’s brave, ambitious poems: so many kinds of heartache and grief and so many questions that elude answers, and also the ghosts of dead grandparents and unborn children haunting quiet afternoons spent among fields of wildflowers or along lonely lake beaches. Yet these poems remind the reader—especially the one who reads with heart wide, wide open—that pain, when shared with others, can root us deeper in our collective humanity, can guide us all toward compassion, empathy, perhaps even healing. “It chokes us without a sign, or smell—,” the poet writes, “as if a radioactive current swallowed, / hurting slowly inside / to ripen our bodies.” I so deeply admire the mother who says, “I want your pain,” so deeply admire, too, this poet who has found the words to both capture this pain and to transcend it with such hopefulness and beauty."
Silvia Bonila, author of An Animal Startled by the Mechanisms of Life
"In Naoko Fujimoto’s “Mother Said, I Want Your Pain”, there are rooms without doors nor windows. Time becomes ecstatic and intimate. The reader walks into these rooms allured by the un-adorned but skillful language, the spectral beauty of the imagery and the haunting narrative of emptiness. Voluntary exile and loss are found in passages like the kitchen was dyed empty green like a milk glass. Fujimoto’s heightened sensitivity and connection to nature enhances the physical times in the speaker’s personal history, as in / because there is no answer/ beetles roll/ ants dismantle/ unwrapped pacifiers/ ghost teeth bite my nipples."